Inside track Q&A
Ed O’Donnell, founder of O’Donnells Crisps
What is the most unique thing about your business?
I think the unique thing about our business is the fact that all the ingredients are locally sourced. The potatoes are all grown on our farm in Tipperary. The cheese we use for our Mount Callan cheese and red onion crisps is sourced from a farm in north Clare. It’s made by hand, only during the summer months. The vinegar used in our Irish Cider Vinegar and Sea Salt crisps comes from an apple farm in Tipperary. The chilli sauce for our sweet chilli crisps comes from the scullery in Nenagh. The crisps are also unique in that they are handmade, artisan-style crisps.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I tried to take on too much on at the start. It’s one thing getting the product made, but you also have to think about distribution, marketing, PR. I was trying to take all those on as well as growing the potatoes to make the crisps.
What has been your major success to date?
The fact that the crisps are for sale in so many shops. The business was launched only three years ago and now has 2 per cent of the Irish market. We are selling to Irish shops such as SuperValu, Centra, Londis, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn and Tesco, and Selfridges in the UK. It was a great boost to get the deal with Selfridges, as it really showed the quality of our product, the fact they wanted to sell them.
We are also exporting the crisps to the United States, Canada and five European countries.
Who would you admire most in business and why?
I look at other people who have set up their own businesses in Ireland, particularly other food businesses that have been set up in the last few years. I really admire them as it takes a lot of guts to set up your own business at this time.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
I think it would greatly help SMEs and start-up businesses if there was greater access to funds. I got funding from Leader when I started off and it was an enormous help. There should be more things like that. Businesses definitely need more access to credit from banks too.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Distribution has been the greatest challenge for the business. It was one thing growing the potatoes and getting the crisps made, it was quite another getting them into the shops. Financing was also a challenge. It was difficult to get money when we were starting. I went to banks and investors seeking €1.7 million to set up production and storage facilities and was told it would be a high-risk investment.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
We are launching two new flavours this summer. We are also hoping to expand the business and export to more countries in Europe, as well as increasing our exports to the US and Canada.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
It’s a very, very young business, only three years old, so I couldn’t really put a value on it. It’s my baby though. I never gave up on the idea despite scepticism from family friends and banks, so I definitely wouldn’t sell it.
Do you think the banks are open for business to SMEs at the moment?
I think they are open to a certain extent but they could be better. There is plenty of opportunity out there, but people should have a good plan drawn up when they are approaching banks.